Above: Photo by Simon Butler.
Above: The reverse of the stone (click to enlarge). Just who was the lady who left a frozen footprint in the snow beside the dead body? (Photo Dr. Tony Shaw.)
Above: A wonderful woodcut illustration of Saltersford Hall Farm by Howard Phipps. (Click to enlarge.)
Above: Alan Garner’s novel, Thursbitch, tells the story of John Turner’s mysterious fate. Click here to view on Wordery.
Finding the stone
It’s easy to miss the stone. I went along the road a few times before spotting it.
Click the map to see it’s exact location. It’s just past a metal gate on the right, above a fairly high verge.
The road is too narrow to park, so drivers need to find space around the spot marked ‘Nab End’ on the map.
A mile or two southwest of Jenkin Chapel, beside the ancient road known as Ewrin Lane, stands an intriguing memorial stone. The inscription on one side reads “HERE JOHN TURNER WAS CAST AWAY IN A HEAVY SNOW STORM IN THE NIGHT IN OR ABOUT THE YEAR 1755”. And on the other side “THE PRINT OF A WOMANS SHOE WAS FOUND BY HIS SIDE WERE HE LAY DEAD”.
What can it mean? Who was John Turner? Who cast him away in a heavy snow storm? And who was the mysterious lady who left a single footprint beside the frozen body? It sounds like an intriguing case for Sherlock Holmes! But even he would have struggled to piece together the clues from an 18th century stone standing beside a narrow country road.
The stone even seems to have inspired a novel; ‘Thursbitch’ by Alan Garner. (It’s received some good reviews and I’ve ordered a copy.) Click here to read Alan’s account of what led him to write the novel. Here’s what Alan has to say about John Turner;
John Turner lived at Saltersford Hall, where his father was a tenant farmer. He was born in 1706 and became a packman, or jagger, with a train of four horses.
His main occupation was carrying salt from Chester and Northwich to Derby, from where he would return with malt. His home in Saltersford* was ideally placed on this prehistoric trade route.
On Christmas Eve, 1735, (that is, when John was twenty-nine), he was on his way back from Northwich. It was snowing. But packmen were used to being on the road in all weathers and at all hours. They knew the hills better than anyone. They took no risks.
Jaggers were essential to their communities and yet at the same time mistrusted. Travel in eighteenth century England was not for ordinary folk. Most people didn’t move more than four miles from their birthplace in their entire lives.
Jaggers were looked on as boundary-striders, as Grendel is described in Beowulf, wild men, wodwose, as in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. They belonged more to the hills than to the valleys.
Yet on that Christmas Eve, John Turner did not reach home. The next morning he was found dead, though his team of horses survived, covered by drifts. And by him, on the white, wind-smoothed land, was the single print of a woman’s shoe in the snow.
Which all leaves just as many questions as answers! I’ll update this page if I discover any more clues about John’s frozen death and the mysterious lady who left a single footprint in the snow.
*Saltersford isn’t marked on modern maps. Bit it was the same location as Jenkin Chapel.
Above: Here’s a short video clip of the stone I found on YouTube.